Normally when I hear the words "Japanese" and "restaurant", images of badly-cut sushi rolls and funky-smelling, horribly prepared fugu flash before my eyes, and I need to sit down and have a glass of water (such preconceptions stem from my father's disdain for Asian food that's NOT corner shop Chinese). But on the way to an Amanda Palmer concert (awesome!) I was persuaded (read: dragged) into Saké Restaurant by one of my favourite eating-companions, FoxyRoxy.
Saké is located in The Rocks, and the outside of the building is quite plain and unassuming. But when we walked through the door, we encountered a chic and sophisticated bar area with traditional japanese decoration, but a modern minimalist feel that creates a lot of space.
Down a short hall we pass the open-plan kitchen, and all of the staff greet us. A waiter shows us to our seats; the layout of the room is set up so as to accomodate any number of people, from couples to large groups, and the lighting somehow manages to make every area feel intimate. The place settings are geometric and simple, reflecting the theme of the bar area.
Service is quick and pleasant; within moments we have our starters (wagyu new style and steamed prawn dumplings:
The wagyu beef is delicious and tender, marinated in yuzu soy and finished in chives and ginger, which gives it a fresh, cleansing aftertaste, and before long it has been devoured. Normally not one for prawns or citrus, I was hesitant to try the dumplings, but once I did it was hard to leave Roxy any. I expected the dumplings to be bland and chewy, but they were anything but, and the ponzu sauce served on the side really complimented the dish.
Before too long we were eager to try our mains:
First up was the Spider Maki with tobiko, chives and ponzu. The combination of beautifully fried crab, cucumber and mayo was extraordinary, and the saltiness of the tobiko and freshness of the chives and ponzu really made it a stand-out dish.
Next we tried the miso-cream scallops, and this was the first time I had actually enjoyed eating scallops. They were light and tender and yuzu miso cream was the perfect accompaniment.
Last, but definitely not least, was the assorted tempura. Quite possibly the best tempura we've ever had, it included seasonal vegetables and seafood lightly fried in a thin, crispy batter and served with tentsuyu dipping sauce.
Did I refer to the tempura as "last"? I lied :)
This delightful concoction of buttermilk panna cotta, raspberry jelly and sauce, and toasted coconut was smooth, creamy, and beautifully presented; the raspberry components were sharp and tangy, not at all cloying or overly sweet.
Saké is slightly expensive, but with the range of dishes on the menu, the quality, the ambience and layout of the restaurant, and the skill demonstrated in the execution and presentation of the meals, I would definitely say it's worth it, and I have a feeling Roxy and I are going to be regulars.
Saké Restaurant & Bar
12 Argyle St
The Rocks, Sydney
Phone: 9259 5656